Warm weather, high winds could worsen fire conditions in U.S. West

Reuters News
|
Posted: Aug 24, 2015 3:21 PM

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Dozens of wildfires continued to roar through parts of the bone-dry U.S. West on Monday, forcing evacuations from Washington state to Southern California, with warm weather and winds expected to heighten fire risk in the Northwest this week.

The summer fire season has brought unprecedented challenges, with vast geographic areas aflame simultaneously in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest and California, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Christine Cozakos.

“There’s no season-ending weather event coming any time soon,” she said.

Four new wildfires sparked to life over the weekend, bringing the total acreage scorched this year in Washington and Oregon alone to just over 1 million acres (404,686 hectares), according to the national Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Dozens of fire managers and firefighters from Australia and New Zealand reported to the Fire Center's headquarters on Monday, preparing for deployment to aid in fighting numerous wildfires in Washington state, Cozakos said.

Some, including fire supervisors, heavy equipment bosses and helicopter managers, arrived late on Sunday, Cozakos said. Others were scheduled to fly in Monday afternoon to be outfitted with safety equipment before undergoing two days of orientation and training.

In California, the Summit fire in the San Bernardino Mountains near the resort community of Big Bear Lake burned 100 acres (40.5 hectares) since sparking to life on Sunday, threatening hundreds of homes and leading most area schools to be closed.

By midmorning on Monday, the small but threatening fire in the area of the Snow Summit Ski Resort was 50 percent contained, but mandatory and voluntary evacuations remained in effect for parts of the area.

In Washington state, crews made good progress on Sunday against the Chelan complex of fires in the north-central part of the state, bringing containment to 40 percent, fire officials said Monday morning.

Moderate winds on Monday were expected to work in favor of firefighters, but later in the week hot weather and stronger winds could lead the tough collection of blazes to expand again, officials said on the inter-agency fire website InciWeb.

Federal fire managers have also tapped the military and Canada for assistance in battling destructive and even deadly blazes.

Last week, three firefighters in Washington state were killed and four injured while battling a wildfire threatening the town of Twisp.

(Additional reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Matthew Lewis)